It’s 1st and 10 on Rockford’s own 25-yard line. Andrew Pratt is lined up over the right guard. His knees are bent slightly less than the average linebacker so he can see just over the linemen. The ball is snapped and the right guard goes up the field to block Pratt. The guard slams his hands into Pratt’s shoulder pads; however, Pratt used his hands to throw the guard from him. Pratt then moves up to the line of scrimmage, keeping his shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage, to stuff the running back for no gain.
This is West Ottawa football. The 2017-2018 season for West Ottawa was filled with amazing defensive and offensive weapons. Last year’s team captain and middle linebacker extraordinaire, Liam Cavanaugh, was the dream middle linebacker. This season, it would be hard to fill Cavanaugh’s place on the team. His replacement, Andrew Pratt.
Cavanaugh, weighing in at 215 lbs and standing at 6 ft. 3 in., was the prototypical linebacker. Not only was Cavanaugh the perfect build to fill a running lane, he was also blessed with the perfect height and athleticism to run with receivers. It was no surprise to anyone that Cavanaugh has gone on to play college football after graduating.
The factor of height may be hard to believe in the game of football, but an easy example of the advantages is one of Cavanaugh’s interceptions last season.
It is 2nd and 10 on the Panther’s 40 yard line. Rockford’s quarterback takes the snap and is looking downfield for a miracle play. He thinks he has a receiver open in the middle of the field and heaves the ball his way. However, what the quarterback didn’t see was Cavanaugh, who uses his 6 ft. 3 in. and all of his vertical to pick off Rockford with the last seconds winding down. Now, let’s replace Cavanaugh with a 5 ft. 7 in. linebacker; the ball is going straight over his head and landing perfectly into the receiver’s hands for the game winning score.
Pratt, weighing in at 156 lbs and standing at 5 ft. 7 in., is not so much the prototypical linebacker. Not only is Pratt smaller than the average middle linebacker used to fill running lanes, his height doesn’t allow him to contest for passes thrown his way while in coverage. However, undersized and overlooked, Pratt looks to play football beyond of West Ottawa High School.
With such an impressive season last year, the hopes were high, and all eyes were on Pratt to fill the shoes of one of West Ottawa’s greats.
“I was super nervous going into the season. Coming off of the historic season we had, led by Liam, I had no clue how I would live up to that,” said Pratt. Taking up a challenge like replacing Cavanaugh is never a light task, yet Pratt picked up the torch.
Pratt lived up to the middle linebacker hype. With 66 tackles this season and averaging 6.6 tackles per game, Pratt is doing more than just filling some big shoes.
“I feel like I’ve done a pretty decent job this season. Of course I’m not as big as he is, but I feel like my raw talent is carrying me through this season and always has,” Pratt said. And that seemed to be the case as Pratt led his defense in tackles.
Pratt is not only living up to his own expectations, but he is doing pretty well in the eyes of his position and head coach Ryan Oshnock. “Pratt had to work on his craft, and you can see that with his performances on Friday nights.” Oshnock said. Pratt is doing rather well for himself even after the historic season less than a year ago.
While there are many differences between the two middle linebackers, Oshnock doesn’t seem to be concerned about them. “Linebackers in the past might have been larger in stature, but certainly not larger in heart.” said Oshnock. He believes that Pratt can be smaller than your average middle linebacker yet be a great player through his love for the game.
Not only were Pratt’s coaches impressed, but so were his teammates. “He (Pratt) played out of his mind this season…it was crazy to see him come out so small yet play so hard and succeed in the fashion he did.” said Jr. Davon Phetthongdy. Pratt’s talent was noticed by Phetthongdy week one. “Our first game against Lakeshore, Pratt had no problem with the guards who looked twice the kid’s size.” said Phetthongdy. This shows just how good Pratt was despite his size.
While the Panthers season was ended short, Pratt was still able to show off his amazing ability while being undersized; so, anybody in attendance for any of the 10 games this season saw his talents first hand.